Thursday 28 August 2014

039) Tzedakah - Corner Stone or Stumbling Block

No one can debate the fact that giving charity or Tzedakah is a cornerstone of our religious system. Much has been written about the topic and it is not necessary to reproduce the copious wordage that has been expended in that regard.

Sadly, not everybody writing on the importance of giving is as concerned about the giving as they are about the receivingI personally know of one particular author who wrote a book on Tzedakah, who told me that his organization desperately needed funds and he had to impress upon his readership the importance of giving. Sure, he was expounding Torah. But he lost my buy-in.

I also knew a famous Meshulach (fund raiser for Torah institutions) who because of his astute professionalism took 80% of the money he raised, for himself. Sure, he got people to fulfill the great mitzvah of Tzedakah, and in a perfectly legal manner also filled his own coffers. What a clever man. What a win-win situation.  But I could never give my money to such a person.

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov warns us not to just give money to anyone who requests it, no matter how many times they tell you it’s for Tzedakah. Money, he says should only be given to an Oni Hagun (someone whom you know for certain needs help). Indiscriminate giving is not an act of kindness, but an indication of how you have been duped into falling for the oldest trick in history. Don’t think you have always performed a great mitzvah every time you have been relieved of your money.

But never before have I ever come upon such (spiritual) trickery and (financial) thievery as when I read a pamphlet accompanying Jewish Life, a mainstream orthodox magazine in my community recently. This was an appeal by a well known international charity, known as Kupat HaIr which collects money for poor Torah scholars. This organization is endorsed by whom they call ‘Gedolei HaDor’ (Rabbinic Giants of our generation). By contributing money, these great rabbinic leaders will sincerely offer up heartfelt prayers on your behalf. And then:
 The poor will finally know what it’s like to be wealthy, and children will began (sic) applying themselves industriously to their learning to the point where mothers will rub their eyes in disbelief and excitement… 
Once-a-year…Maranan Hagaon Harav … shlit”a,  Maranan Hagaon Harav … shlit”a, and Hagaon Harav … shilt”a – each in his own shul- will recite the same tefillah [prayer]…on your behalf as a contributor to Kupat HaIr…you will merit to raise your children easily; you will merit having all your physical and spiritual ailments cured…less doctors…less worries…
During the holy moments when the aron [ark] is open…they will pray for you, contributor to Kupat HaIr….we want the best for our contributors…in recent times the number of children born…has grown so large that the burden of proof is no longer upon us. People counted out one hundred and four perutos [coins] – twice the numerical equivalent of the word ben [son] – gave them to poor and humble Torah scholars and merited…one child or more – the following year…the segulah has the power to change a persons mazel for the better… to merit parnassah [wealth], medical cures, and the like…
 After reading this arrogant deception and open manipulation, the frightening things for me are:
  1. That such incredulous claims are made by so called leaders of our generation.
  2. That the impossible is promised only to those who pay.
  3. That this superstition is endorsed by a normative publication in a modern orthodox community in 2014.
  4. That people actually fall for it and contribute with great expectations that a few dollars can create miracles. 
The Kotzker Rebbe says:
Ten Righteous men may have been able to save Sodom. But fools who follow even a great leader, can reduce that leader to a fool himself.
(Kochav HaShachar p 85, par 4)

If I had read that leaders of another religion had made such claims as those quoted above, I would have laughed. When I read that leaders of our religion make and endorse such ridiculous claims, I want to cry.

Are we following fools, or are we the fools the Kotzker refers to, who are reducing our leaders
to becoming fools themselves?

How did such a noble mitzvah as Tzedakah go from being a cornerstone of our faith, to become a stumbling block for the ignorant and gullible?

If I have to give money for someone to pray for me, I’m sorry but I don’t want their prayers.

They are not praying for me but preying upon me.

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